Kit Bennings is an elite military intelligence agent working undercover in Moscow. When he is compromised by a brutal mafia don and former KGB general he knows that his military career, if not his life, will soon be over. With nothing to lose he goes rogue in the hope of saving his kidnapped sister and stopping the digital theft of America's deepest secrets.
Yulana Petkova is a divorcee, devoted mother, and Russian weapons engineer. And maybe more. Spy? Mob assassin? The shotgun marriage to stranger Kit Bennings takes them on a life-or-death hopscotch from Moscow to Los Angeles, from secret US military bases to Las Vegas, where she uses her wiles at every turn to carry out her own hidden agenda.
Hunted by killers from both Russia and the United States, Bennings struggles to stop the mobster's brilliant deception―a theft designed to go unnoticed―that will make the Russian mafia kingpin the richest man in the world, while decimating the very heart of America's economic and intelligence institutions.
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About the Author
ED KOVACS is the author of the critically acclaimed Cliff St. James series. Using various pen names, he has worked professionally around the world as a screenwriter (eight of his screenplays have been produced) television writer, journalist, comedy writer, and media consultant. He is a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers, American Legion Post 299, the International Thriller Writers association, and Mystery Writers of America.
Read an Excerpt
The Russian Bride
By Ed Kovacs
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2015 Ed Kovacs
All rights reserved.
The big sky hung low. Charcoal-hued cumulus clouds crowded the airspace above Interstate 80 east of Evanston, Wyoming, like they were moving in for a takedown. The weather made Irene Shanks's ankles hurt even more than the walking did.
"Rain coming soon," said Irene, without even glancing up. At seventy-eight years old, she didn't need a barometer; the swelling in her joints told her everything she needed to know about the weather forecast. She loosely held the L-rods favored by most dowsers as she hobbled her grid pattern over the hard soil.
"Will we have to stop?" asked Lily Bain, the pretty, blue-eyed blond woman who had shown up unannounced two days earlier on the doorstep of Irene's Tucson home with a lucrative proposition to come to the Salt Lake City area for a quick dowsing job.
"No, this shouldn't take long at all. Locating buried cables is child's play for me. Howard, my deceased husband, taught me how to find buried cables over forty years ago."
Lily and her partner Dennis had flown Irene first-class to Salt Lake City, put her in a nice hotel to rest, and then set out early this morning for the drive east on the interstate into Wyoming. Irene wasn't sure exactly where they were now, but back in Tucson she had map-dowsed the couple's Wyoming property using a pendulum. She had marked an area on a large-scale map they had provided her of a two-acre-sized plot where she felt the buried cable would most likely be found. And since the homemade map contained no reference that identified the actual location, Irene wondered if they were really treasure hunters trying to disguise their true intent.
They had all arrived from Salt Lake City in a rented four-wheel-drive GMC Yukon about thirty minutes earlier. Irene had set to work quickly and found the area that corresponded with the points she had marked on the map. She was now carefully walking a grid pattern on the desolate, gently sloping land, letting a moisture-laden prestorm breeze rich with ozone blow wayward strands of silver hair into her eyes.
Irene looked up. The foreground roller-coaster horizon didn't reveal much perspective; she knew they were close to I-80 and civilization—at least truck-stop civilization—but the view only suggested that they stood in the middle of nowhere. Something nagged at her as she slowly covered more ground; it wasn't the approaching storm bothering her, but she couldn't put her finger on it.
"Can I ask what you two are going to do out here in the boondocks that you're worried about the location of this cable?" asked Irene.
"We haven't decided that exactly," said Dennis, smiling. At thirty-four years old he stood six feet three, and even with a long-sleeved shirt covering his torso, one could see that he clearly was no stranger to the weight room. The bulk contrasted with a babyish face and pale skin featuring perennially rosy cheeks. His golden hair was combed back and made darker by using some kind of cream or gel. "But since the county has misplaced the maps showing where the cable is located, we want to know where not to dig or build something."
"I mean, you'll have to construct some kind of real road just to drive in here and ..."
"It's amazing that you dowsed a water well for the Tucson water utility," said Lily, gently changing the subject. Only in her mid-twenties, Lily was slender, her ghost-white skin freckled out from the nose, and her smile was completely sweet. Irene thought of it as a "cutie-pie smile." Lily had explained away her slight accent as the result of spending her high school years in Prague, where her businessman father had been working. Lily's limp, straight hair was not cut fashionably, making Dennis appear to be the vain one of the young couple.
"But I got a call from the Tucson water company telling me I was wrong," protested Irene.
Dennis and Lily suddenly looked aghast. "Wrong?"
A smile came to Irene's lips, since she knew she had them going. "The water utility executive told me they drilled on the spot I had marked, and that they found water at exactly one hundred forty-three feet deep, just like I told them. But he said they were getting two hundred and two gallons a minute from the well, not two hundred and one, like I had said." Nothing wrong with a little bragging from a seventy-eight-year-old, thought Irene.
Dennis visibly relaxed and, smiling again, flicked his cigarette. "Sounds like your late husband, Howard, taught you well."
Suddenly, Irene's L-rods, made from pot metal similar to coat hangers, pointed sharply to the ground. "Found it. Could you mark it, sweetheart?" Irene asked Lily.
Irene reached into a nylon pouch slung across her chest, retrieved a small pink plastic surveyor's flag on a metal rod, and gave it to Lily, who inserted it into the ground under Irene's L-rods. Irene concentrated her efforts on this area now, and soon a line of pink surveyor's flags bifurcated part of the property.
"That's good enough," called out Dennis as he crossed toward the Yukon. "You have earned your money, Irene. We can easily determine the path of the cable now. Come here before the rain starts."
"I thought you wanted to know how deep it's buried."
"Oh, yes, of course! Sorry."
Irene handed her L-rods to Lily and then removed from her pouch a quartz crystal on a silver chain. She stood over one of the pink flags and held out the pendulum in her right hand. "Right for yes, left for no, thank you," whispered Irene, with her eyes closed. Then in a normal voice she said, "Is the cable buried between one and ten feet deep?"
Lily watched with obvious interest as the crystal quickly spun left. The young woman squinted, looking more closely, as if trying to catch Irene manipulating the movement of the stone.
"Is the cable buried between ten and twenty feet deep?"
This time the crystal spun to the right. "I'm going to go with a hunch," Irene said to Lily as she grasped the crystal to make it still again. "Is the cable buried at fifteen feet deep?"
The pendulum spun wildly to the right. "Fifteen feet deep it is, then. Seems awfully deep for a cable," said Irene, shaking her head as she put the pendulum away.
"Let's go. The rain is almost here," said Lily.
As Lily gently took Irene's arm and helped her walk the twenty yards to the SUV, Dennis opened the rear doors, retrieved a large black plastic tarp, and spread it onto the ground next to the rear of the Yukon.
"Can you stand on the tarp and use your dowsing rods to see if there's something there?" asked Lily.
"What am I looking for?"
"Just tell me if you get any sense of something. This will only take a moment, and then we are finished."
Irene thought the request a bit odd, but the size of the tarp was so small, it would indeed only take a moment. She held out the L-rods and slowly stepped onto the black tarp.
"I know dowsers who can locate crashed airplane sites, dowsers who find gold, silver ... and buried treasure."
"We just wanted you to find the cable, I promise you that," assured Dennis.
She had no real reason to doubt him. But after taking a few short steps, she stopped. "I almost feel like Howard is trying to warn me about—"
Irene turned to face Lily and saw the sweet young lady holding a handgun that was pointed right at her. There was a black tube attached to the end of the gun barrel, and Irene heard several very soft sounds come from the gun before her world went black as the tarp.
The seventy-eight-year-old fell perfectly onto the center of the plastic sheet. Her swollen ankles would never bother her again.
"Did you hear what she said? She said her dead husband was trying to warn her, and that was exactly when I pulled my weapon."
"Just a coincidence," said Dennis, sizing up the fresh corpse, the easy smile gone from his face. "How deep did she say the cable was?"
"That sounds right. This old babushka must weigh a hundred kilos," he said disdainfully.
And with that, Dennis rolled her up into the tarp, and he and Lily grunted as they lifted Irene's body into the back of the Yukon.
Dennis closed the doors and then barked commands in Russian into a two-way radio. Lily crossed over to the pink surveyor's flags and replaced them all with small chunks of broken concrete painted to match the brown earth.
In less than a minute, a Ford F-350 pickup towing a backhoe on a trailer and carrying three men appeared over a slight rise and drove up to the Yukon.
"Get the camouflage netting up first," yelled Dennis, speaking in his native tongue of Russian to the workers. "Dig down to exactly fourteen feet. We work in between passes of the spy satellites."CHAPTER 2
The Bennings family home sat on a hillock just off narrow and winding Carbon Canyon Road in Chino Hills, California. Chino Hills was once a rustic ranch community in the southwest corner of San Bernardino County that went somewhat upscale with the influx of moneyed Chinese American and Chinese immigrant householders, and it's part of the smog-choked Los Angeles megalopolis that consumes a good chunk of Southern California. When the traffic gods are smiling, the drive to downtown L.A. only takes forty minutes.
Thirty-one-year-old Staci Bennings sat in her late father's airy home office on a pleasant spring morning, but her view out the windows was of a muddy brownish gray pall clinging to the horizon like a judgment that couldn't be expunged. To be sure, there was blue sky, but Staci would have to crane her neck at least 45 degrees to see it. She appeared to be lost in thought, staring out the windows.
The home office was decorated with all kinds of aviation memorabilia: models of commercial jets painted in the old TWA paint scheme occupied bookcase shelves; an airline captain's hat sat next to a U.S. Air Force officer's hat; and the control wheel from a 747 rested on the desk next to the PC where Staci sat. She shifted her gaze to the computer monitor, clicked on a different Web page, and twisted her troubled countenance into an angry scowl. Tall, slender, and very capable, Staci was the kind of person who usually wore a smile, not a frown; the sour look on her high-cheekboned, elegant face was like a clanging alarm, and her mood was not due to the dirty air tainting the skyline.
"From the look on your face, this is not good," said Staci's mother, Gina, weakly. "I don't understand what's going on."
Staci clicked on yet another Web page, then locked her gaze on her mother. "It's called identity theft, Mom. Some thief has hacked your life; the bank accounts are drained, your credit cards are maxed, new credit lines have been opened ... I mean, wow, this is not good. I was just thinking about what I need to do first."
In frustration, Staci blew air from her mouth upward, causing some of the bangs of her shoulder-length brown hair highlighted with blond to flutter.
"New credit lines? Oh, my lord ..." Gina Bennings put a hand on her chest and swayed slightly.
"Mom, sit down," said Staci, springing to her feet and crossing quickly to Gina. She eased her into a chair. "It's a mess right now, but I can take care of it. Don't worry, the banks, the credit card companies will make good on the money. I promise."
Gina Bennings had been an Italian fashion model thirty-eight years ago when she married her late husband, Tommy, an American citizen and commercial airline pilot. She gave up her catwalk career in Milan to be a wife and mother, giving birth to and raising three children in Southern California. But when her husband and youngest son died in a plane crash four years ago, she snapped. She had a nervous breakdown from which she never fully recovered. She also physically let herself go to seed, and she looked older than her age of sixty. Gina couldn't even take good care of herself anymore, so Staci had been living with her and attending to her needs while at the same time stepping in to help run the family aviation business.
"We should call Kit."
"He's overseas, Mom. I'll tell him the next time he calls."
"Where is he stationed now?"
"I've told you a hundred times: he's doing one of those things he can't talk about."
"Kit can help. We need a man in the house. Why doesn't he move home, anyway?"
"Don't worry, I can take care of this," said Staci, running her hand through her mom's unkempt gray hair and then giving her a gentle kiss on top of the head.
"Staci, someone has stolen all of our money. Please call Kit."
Staci checked her chronograph: 8:00 A.M. Pacific Time meant it was 7:00 P.M. in Moscow. The timing was probably okay. Kit would be calling in a few hours, anyway, as he did every day without fail since the plane crash that left him as the sole "man of the house." She knew she was only to call him if there was an emergency, using the encrypted satellite phone, or sat phone, he had given her. As she thought about it, she figured this qualified, even if her brother was involved in some kind of black ops. Having spent several years in the army herself, including a stint in Iraq, she knew better than to ever ask her brother what he really did.
Staci could take care of the damage control well enough with all of the financial institutions; it would be a time-consuming mess, but she'd do it and do it well. She took no offense at her mom's insistence on notifying her big brother. A day never went by that Gina didn't ask Kit to please move back home and live with her and Staci. An extremely close-knit family had been torn apart the day her dad and younger brother died in that crash. Selfishly, a part of Staci would like Kit to come home, too, and help ease the burden of being Gina's sole caregiver.
Yes, the view from the window was murky; sometimes you needed help to remember to look up and find the blue sky.
"You're right, Mom. I'll call Kit."
Staci knew that Kit had friends at the NSA, National Security Agency, and those freaky geeks could do virtually anything in the digital world they wanted to. Congressional oversight? Court orders? Search warrants? The politicians wanted people to believe that all of the snooping was legal and about terrorism, but oversight was a gray area at best, and Washington power politics was a constant exercise in abuse of power. The more spying that was allowed in the name of "keeping Americans safe," the more risk every citizen ran of becoming a target in the crosshairs of a government agency or employee or politician with an agenda; it happened frequently, regardless of what the politicians or the press led the public to believe.
But the flip side of the coin for Staci was that Kit's cyber-warrior pals would indeed abuse the system to find the jerk who did this, and then make them pay. So she crossed to the desk and dialed a number into the sat phone.
* * *
Just back from a long workday, Major Kit Bennings stood at the foot of his bed and, with no wasted movement, changed out of the civilian clothes—slacks, dress shirt, and tie—that he usually wore while on duty as an assistant defense attaché at the U.S. embassy in Moscow. He could faintly hear his roommates arguing over a game of cards in the main room of their shared apartment off Voykova Street in the Golovinsky District.
His three roomies were army personnel posted to the embassy. Careful scheduling assured that at least one of them was always present in the ground-floor corner apartment, thus preventing agents of the Russian intelligence agencies from ever gaining surreptitious access and bugging the place, as they did at most American government workers' living quarters in Moscow. Bennings turned up the volume on his digital music player, and the chords of "Boom Boom" by legendary bluesman John Lee Hooker filled his room and masked the indistinct chatter of his roomies.
Bennings's quarters were a safe room within a safe house; from the exterior, no one could see the bricked-up windows and floors and walls lined with lead. Or the trapdoor leading to a secret tunnel down below.
Excerpted from The Russian Bride by Ed Kovacs. Copyright © 2015 Ed Kovacs. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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